Steroid Use: A Dangerous Trend Among Teens

IMAGE Johnny, a young man who lives in a small midwestern town, is an illegal drug user. His habit started slowly, but has grown quickly. He now must resort to stealing to support it. Lately, his friends and family have noticed some troubling changes in him. Johnny's drug habit however, is quite different from what most would probably expect, since he is only 14 years old. The money he steals comes from his mother's purse and his father's wallet. The noticeable changes are his expanding neck and his violent moods. Johnny's drug of choice? Anabolic steroids.

A Quiet, But Dangerous Habit

Illegal steroid use by Olympic, college, and professional athletes often makes the news, but the abuse of these drugs by teenagers has not received as much attention. What is most troubling is that the health dangers can be especially devastating for teenagers.

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

Taken as a pill or as an injection, anabolic steroids are derived from and mimic the effects of the male sex hormone testosterone. Both men and women naturally produce testosterone, although women make very small amounts.In males, testosterone's role in the body is two-fold. First, it maintains the reproductive system, including production and maintenance of the male sexual characteristics, including a deeper voice, increased body hair, larger body size, and greater muscle mass. Second, for a short period of time at the onset of puberty, testosterone production rises dramatically to stimulate the bulk of the physical maturation process, including full bone growth.It is this ability to promote muscle growth, increase lean body mass, and decrease body fat that entices teenagers to take anabolic steroids. Those striving to improve their strength, speed, and stamina often see steroids as a quick way to lift heavier weights and look better.

Side Effects

Unfortunately, the high doses that are necessary to affect these body changes come with health dangers. Teens are at risk for irreversible stunted growth. This happens because the bones are stimulated to grow and mature too quickly, then stop growing earlier than they normally would.Anabolic steroids can produce several adverse side effects in men and women of all ages, including:
  • Acne
  • Swelling of ankles and feet
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin ( jaundice ), which indicates liver damage
  • Reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good") cholesterol
  • Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol
  • Painful joints
  • Hypertension
  • Increased susceptibility of ligaments, tendons, and muscles to injury
  • Mood swings, including uncontrolled anger and aggressiveness, extreme irritability, paranoid jealousy, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility
  • Possible development of psychological dependence on anabolic steroids
  • Possible increased risk of cancer , heart disease , and/or heart attack
  • Possible infection with AIDS or hepatitis if steroids are taken via injection with a shared needle
Some side effects specific to men include:
  • Shrinking of the testicles
  • Baldness
  • Enlargement of the prostate
  • Pain or difficulty urinating
  • Reduced sperm count, which can lead to infertility
  • Inability to get an erection ( impotence )
  • Development of breasts, often irreversible
Side effects specific to women include:
  • Overall masculinization, including the growth of facial hair and a deepening of the voice (may be permanent)
  • Changes in menstruation cycle (menstruation stops or is reduced)
  • Enlargement of the clitoris
  • Reduction in breast size

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